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Normalization is the death of queerness and every revolution.
Queer people shouldn’t be normalized into society, but rather queer people should queer society, and their Christian allies should embrace this.
I was grateful to read Richard Morgan’s column in the New York Times (PDF here) this week about how queer people shouldn’t be striving for normalization. Morgan makes the point that queer people shouldn’t be striving for normalization because we aren’t normal, in the sense that we don’t make up a significant percentage of the population, and we shouldn’t overstate our presence. He writes:
Outside of culture wars or activist agendas — strictly by the numbers — L.G.B.T.Q. identity is nothing remotely approaching mainstream. We’re here. We’re queer. You’ll never get used to it.
While seven percent of the U.S. population identifies as queer, half of those folks are bisexual, while “self-identifying gay men, lesbians, asexuals, pansexuals, two-spirit, nonbinary and transgender folks” make up just three percent of the population. Most Americans overstate this, though, and think that nearly a quarter or more of the population is queer.
Morgan argues that this “make-believe over-representation” assumes the culture to be queerer than it is. He isn’t flinching from the need to push society to embrace us. We don’t want to be normal; we don’t want to just blend in. We are different and want to be seen and known as different. Queerness, as Morgan writes, “cries out to be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, unpredictable, even unknowable.”
Morgan acknowledges that he doesn’t fit into straight society—nor into the most flamboyant aspects of queer society, either. For example, he wears Old Navy and a “raggedy bucket hat.” He no longer craves normalization because he’s accepted the inherent queerness inbeing an outcast. We’re on the fringe, and that’s the power of queerness.
Morgan asks an incisive question: “Why fold an L.G.B.T.Q. community so alive with agency, candor, empathy, kink, and progressivism into compliance and deference to straight comforts, straight expectations and straight traditions?”
I appreciate Morgan’s perspective. As a queer brown man, I will never fit into a straight and white society. I have grappled with my inability to fit in for a long time. I, too, have wanted to be normal; and I strived to assimilate into white American culture as a teen. Without quite realizing it, I also tried to assimilate into a straight culture both within Christianity and outside of it. There’s nothing wrong with assimilating, and some queer folks choose to do that, but it is essential we have the autonomy to do so, and aren’t compelled by our society.
Since that time, however, I have not wanted to be “normalized,” as much as I want my presence to challenge and bend society’s norms. I don’t want to be normal; I want to be queer and I want to queer society’s lines. Part of my queerness is to gender-bend when I feel like it, and to assimilate when I feel like it. I want to give and receive, love and be loved. There is not one norm for me; I can encompass many of them. To paraphrase Walt Whitman—our beloved gay American poet—“I contain multitudes.”
I admit that I present as
As a Christian, I know that acceptance into a society doesn’t bode well for movements. A Bud Light or Target campaign for Pride does very little for queer liberation in the same way that Constantinian and imperial acceptance of Christianity didn’t bode well for us. It is like one of the first so-called feminist TV commercials in the 1970s for Virginia Slims cigarettes, which stated, “You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby; you’ve come a long, long way!” We’re on the margins and we should stay on the margins. Our presence should challenge what normal is, and inflated statistics do the very opposite of that, by implicitly asking us to conform. Nothing meaningful about the corporations flaunting Pride flags changes because they do so; they remain the same. Queerness isn’t just a rainbow flag you fly on your house or a sticker you put on your water bottle. It isn’t an accessory to our humanity, and neither is Christianity. Queerness is transformative, like Christianity. It should change us and change society. We shouldn’t be merely “added” to society, but our presence, as small as it is, should change society.
The more normal we are, the less powerful we are, the less queer we are, and I argue the less Christian we are. We are a lot, and a lot different, and I don’t want to placate my oppressors by insisting I’m just as normal as they are. I’m tired of trying to be normal; I want to be me, and as a queer brown man, that isn’t normal. The idea of normal has oppressed me, and I don’t want to be incorporated into it, or merely tolerated. I want to be liberated. No liberation comes if queer folk just act like our straight counterparts – I hope we can challenge them, in fact.
I want queerness to stay weird and I hope Christianity can be weird on its own. I don’t want to fit into cultural norms because it is precisely the hegemony of those norms that have oppressed me. I am grateful for the straight people in my life who love me and include me, but I hope my presence can influence and change them too. I want to queer the lines of gender and sexuality because they are constraining and limiting.
If we are to imagine a new society and liberate ourselves from the present power structures, we can’t settle for being normalized. We have to queer Christianity. There is no victory in normalizing what isn’t normal. Christianity was always weird and we should keep it that way. The same applies to queerness. When we push for normalization, we simply act like the oppressors that want us to fit in. And worse-- become like them. We shouldn’t find our value in our acceptance, but flaunt it because this society doesn’t accept us, it must be queered and needs to change. Queerness is then a revolution, but a revolution that’s normalized is no revolution at all.